The Mirror & the Light

Holt. (Wolf Hall Trilogy, Bk. 3). Mar. 2020. 784p. ISBN 9780805096606. $30. F
The finale of Mantel’s extraordinary trilogy comes eight years after Bring Up the Bodies, at the end of which Anne Boleyn, second wife of Henry VIII, is beheaded, accused on tainted evidence of adultery. This book starts with Henry’s chief minister and fixer, Thomas Cromwell, walking away from the execution. He’d done what the king needed but regrets doing it. Henry has long grown out of his youthful promise into a monster of ego, and it’s getting harder to please this fickle, guilt-ridden sovereign. Cromwell negotiates his way past two more queens for Henry—Jane Seymour, who dies in childbirth, and Anne of Cleves, rejected by Henry in the marriage bed. All the time, the wolves gather. Eventually, innuendo and cooked-up evidence brings down the hated minister. This is a tale of ghosts as well as live men: Cromwell mentally relives his past as he heads, ineluctably, toward his fall. Readers may be put off by the denseness of the book’s prose, but that’s its power: the details of living in a far-past time surround and enrich the narrative.
VERDICT Mantel has no equal in historical fiction at setting a scene, telling a compelling story, and delineating vibrant characters. Libraries won’t be able to keep this book on the shelves. [See “Seasonal Selections,” LJ 2/20.]
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